Life can take us on so many unexpected journeys leading us to places we never knew existed. I often wonder how I was so fortunate that life led me to North Shore Land Alliance and a career I truly love. In August 2014, the Land Alliance was eager to launch its Long Island Water Education Program (LIWEP) in Long Island schools. I had recently resigned from my tenure position as an elementary school teacher in the Massapequa School District. Teaching about the environment would give me the opportunity to go back to my roots of environmental education. So when I was offered the position I happily accepted.

Teaching the LIWEP is an opportunity to open a dialogue within our communities regarding the importance of water and the value of open space. Many students begin the program unaware that aquifers are our only source of drinking water. They wonder at the notion that they drink water that was once in the ground and are in awe that it was once precipitation. This awareness is the beginning of the educational process that starts in the classroom and continues at home as a conversation.

Since its launch in September 2014, the LIWEP has made its mark on our local schools. Each week students are actively engaged in learning about Long Island’s water resources. While the program has always included both classroom and outdoor lessons, its content has been fine-tuned over the years to align with New York State standards and connect with the Math, Science and Social Studies curriculum. The expansion includes STEM events, summer camp programs, homeschooling programming and Girl Scout activities.

The program consists of two classroom sessions and an optional field trip. Session One helps students understand that water is a resource that needs to be used wisely. They learn how much of our planet’s water is salt and fresh and how much is available for human use. The students carefully construct a model aquifer to better conceive what is happening below our feet. In Session Two, the focus is on precipitation and the role undeveloped land plays in replenishing their drinking water supply. A recent student comment revealed that students are getting the message: “I am going to let my family know protecting our land protects our drinking water.” Many schools opt for a third session which is a field trip to a local park or preserve. Most schools choose the Land Alliance’s Shore Road Sanctuary in Cold Spring Harbor as a field trip location. Students there can be seen travelling through stations learning seashore ecology, grassland ecology and the importance of pollinators. Our Shore Road field trip (which always includes a guest educator from The WaterFront Center, the Cold Spring Harbor Fish Hatchery or the Center for Environmental Education and Discovery) has truly evolved, leading one Hicksville teacher to proclaim that in her 35 years of teaching, her class’s LIWEP excursion to Shore Road last spring was far and away the best field trip they’ve ever attended.

From its first semester in three Oyster Bay area schools, the program has expanded its reach dramatically. It has been delivered to 24 schools in 14 districts across Long Island and reached over 6,500 students. This impact would not have been possible without dedicated funding from ScottsMiracle-Gro, the MerriLyn Foundation, the Rauch Foundation and the Weyerhaeuser Family Foundation. Their generosity allows so many to understand the value of our water and the critical role conserving land plays in protecting it. The success of this program is to be shared with many. It is important to acknowledge the Land Alliance ‘s role in understanding the power of knowledge. It is vital to educate our children; to do so empowers them to make informed decisions. These decisions will shape our future.